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Democrats Slammed for Backroom Bargaining on Health Care Bill; Crackdown on Airlines

Aired December 21, 2009 - 19:00   ET


ERICA HILL, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Tonight Democrats seal the deal, crossing a major hurdle on health care and getting slammed for backroom bargaining.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweetheart deals, which make this thing begin to stink to high heaven.


HILL: Air passengers getting a lift. The federal government orders a crackdown on airlines that leave flyers stuck on the tarmac for hours on end.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Many people sit for seven or eight hours with absolutely nothing to eat. They get sick, faint, the restrooms end up not working. It's just a horrible experience for people.


HILL: And digging out after the storm. Record snowfall burying states and travelers up and down the east coast. And there could be another wallop on the way.

Good evening, everyone. Thanks for being with us on this Monday night. Plenty of backslapping and frankly plenty of finger pointing today after the Senate's early morning vote on health care reform. Democrats managing to gather the 60 yes needed in the middle of the night, which also puts them on track to pass the bill before Christmas.

The victory, though, did not come without considerable cost. It's the deals made to win over wavering Democrats, which are now coming under heavy scrutiny. Republicans blasting the backroom deal and John McCain even compared the situation to the Bernie Madoff Ponzi scheme. So just what did all those deals entail and were they really worth it? Dana Bash reporting now on who got what for voting yes on health care.

(BEGIN VIDEO CLIP) DANA BASH, SENIOR CONGRESSIONAL CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): It was a series of backroom deals that secured Ben Nelson's vote, the last Democratic holdout. One sweetener given only to his home state of Nebraska. Here on page 98 of the compromise, the federal government will pay 100 percent of Nebraska's tab indefinitely for expanding Medicaid for low-income Americans.

And when we asked the Democratic leader, he revealed Nelson wasn't the only one getting special deals.

SENATOR HARRY REID (D), MAJORITY LEADER: Dana, I would say this, if you read the bill, which I'm sure you will, you'll find a number of states are treated differently than other states. That's what legislation is all about, compromise. It's compromise. We worked on different things to get a number of people's votes.

BASH: Like Bernie Sanders, the liberal senator was unhappy Democratic leaders dropped a public option and said this a few days ago.

SENATOR BERNIE SANDERS (I), VERMONT: It is not for sure that I will vote for that bill.

BASH: Suddenly his home state of Vermont got some extra help from Medicaid, too. But to clinch Sander's vote, Democrats added his pet project, $10 billion for community health centers nationwide.

SEN. SANDERS: One new provision that was placed in the healthcare reform bill by Majority Leader Reid and I want to thank him very much.

BASH: Republicans accuse Democrats of bribery.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Chicago-style backroom buy-offs at the expense of the American taxpayers.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Sweetheart deals, which make this thing begin to stink to high heaven.

BASH: But Democrats didn't just slip things in to win votes to pass health care. Leading Democrats also added provisions aimed at helping themselves back home. Chris Dodd's support was never in doubt.

SENATOR CHRIS DODD (D), CONNETICUT: This bill is long overdue and critically important.

BASH: But the Connecticut Democrat facing a tough re-election battle buried $100 million in the measure for a new hospital. Other states can compete for it, but he put it in hoping Connecticut gets the hospital.

SEN. DODD: It doesn't involve just my state, although my state is very interested.

(END OF VIDEO CLIP) BASH (on-camera): It doesn't stop there. There are lots of other things for lots of other senators and their states. For example, there's extra Medicare funds for Montana, South and North Dakota.

And Erica, it's very interesting the Senate Democratic leader is unapologetic about this, he says this is the way it works, it's the art of compromise and get this, he also said I don't know if there's any senator that doesn't have something important in it to them for them. If they don't, it doesn't speak well of them -- Erica.

HILL: Interesting though as he said, Dana, that he was so forth right in it and that we heard in that little bit. Dana Bash, thanks.

President Obama calling that Senate vote on healthcare a big victory for the American people and disputing charges that this plan is really just another big wasteful government spending bill. Dan Lothian is standing by at the White House. Dan, a lot of back and forth on whether the plan actually makes financial sense. The president saying absolutely.

DAN LOTHIAN, WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, that's right. They're really trying to make the case that this really does make financial sense, that it will bring down the costs of health care, that the reforms will target wastes.

Well, at the same time the president saying that if you have insurance that this will provide more stability, security for you. If you have a pre-existing condition, you won't be denied coverage, and then if you're seriously ill, your insurance company won't drop you.

Those are the benefits that the president is selling from this new Senate bill, but some critics say that this will only lead to more spending. It will drive up the deficit eventually will bankrupt the country. The president, though, saying, take a look at the Congressional Budget Office report that says just the opposite.


BARACK OBAMA, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES: I just want to be clear for all those who are continually carping about how this is somehow a big spending government bill, this cuts our deficit by $132 billion the first 10 years and by over a trillion in the second. That argument that opponents are making against this bill does not hold water.


LOTHIAN: He made those comments today at an event focused on making government more efficient. Back in March, the president called on federal departments, agencies to look for ways to cut in contracting billions of dollars a year by 2011. The president now saying that 24 agencies have come back, identified $19 billion in cuts. So you see the president here talking about ways to make government more efficient, a way to cut a lot of the fat out of government, while at the same time he's spending a lot of money to try to turn the economy around. HILL: So much talk, it's always about money, Dan. Thanks. >

The crucial Senate vote on healthcare came just after 1:00 in the morning after a huge snowstorm, of course, and just days before Christmas. It's not exactly textbook stuff when you talk about the way Congress works. As Louise Schiavone reports, is this really the best way to make national policy?


LOUISE SCHIAVONE: The iconic dream of a white Christmas became a reality this past weekend in Washington, and yet it's not necessarily the most wonderful time of the year in the U.S. Senate.


SENATOR TOM HARKIN (D), IOWA: Objection is heard. Mr. President, there you go again. There they go again. You know they want to delay, delay, delay, delay.

SCHIAVONE: at 1:00 a.m. on the first official day of winter, the clerk of the Senate called the roll, and 58 Democrats and two independents definitely maneuvered passed another mogul in a bumpy downhill course to a final vote on the Senate healthcare reform bill despite angry opposition.

SENATOR LAMAR ALEXANDER (R), TENNESSEE: It's obvious why the majority has cooked up this amendment in secret, as introduced it in the middle of a snowstorm, has scheduled the Senate to come in session at midnight, has scheduled a vote for 1:00 a.m., is insisting that it be passed before Christmas because they don't want the American people to know what's in it.

SCHIAVONE: Congressional analyst, Norm Ornstein at the American Enterprise Institute says, "it's a classic case of gridlock."

NORM ORSTEIN, AMERICAN ENTERPRISE INSTITUTE: This is a dysfunctional Senate right now in a dysfunctional partisan atmosphere.

SCHIAVONE: Facing filibuster threat after threat on the president's top domestic agenda item. The Senate's top Democrat said, "he had no other choice."

SEN. REID: Everyone knows we're here at 1:00 in the morning because of my friends on the other side of the aisle. For them to say with a straight face -- I notice some of them didn't have the straight face -- that we're here because of us is without any foundation whatsoever. Everyone knows that.

SCHIAVONE: So who has torn a page from "The Grinch who Stole Christmas". You're a mean one, Mr. Grinch."

With Democrats now commanding a filibuster-proof 60 votes on the bill, Analyst Ornstein blames the GOP.

ORNSTEIN: They'd rather ruin their own Christmases as well as everybody else's.

SCHIAVONE: Is there any other way to push this bolder of a health bill up the Senate mountain?


SCHIAVONE: Well, Erica, still ahead, potentially three more closure votes with the final Senate vote possibly on Christmas eve and even after all that, the House and Senate will have to go through it all again after the two bodies work out a compromise bill.

And Erica, it should be noted the only other two previous times that the Senate met on a Christmas eve was in 1963 and before that 1895.

HILL: Been a little while. As you mentioned, to reconcile those two bills could definitely take a lot of work on its own. Louise, thanks. >

While Democrats and the president may be cheering the bill's passage, a majority of Americans still oppose the Senate plan. According to a CNN Opinion Research Corporation poll, 56 percent say they are against the measure. Now that's a slight shift actually in favor of the plan from a weeks ago. When as you can see opposition was as high as 61 percent, 42 percent support the plan, that number also up at six points.

And when asked for the effect the health care bill would have on their own family, 34 percent of respondents thought it would change things for the better, 37 percent thought it would make things worst. While 39 percent said it would have no effect. And when you figure the sampling error, almost works out to even across the board. >

Meantime the debate over the potential health hazards of cell phones is heating up. Thanks to lawmakers actually. Legislators in Maine now considering a law that would require new cell phones sold in the state to come with cancer warnings. This would be the first state in the country to mandate those warnings. The city of San Francisco is considering a similar measure.

But there's one problem here, little consensus among health experts about the actual risks. Studies about whether cell phone use does cause cancer have actually gone both ways. The proposed warnings would tell users to keep phones away from their heads and bodies, especially children and pregnant women. The cell phone industry for its part disputes the health claims. >

Still ahead tonight, the mysterious death of actress, Brittany Murphy. Just how long before the answers from today's autopsy? >

Plus there are new rules to save you from being trapped on the tarmac when your flight is delayed for hours and hours or even overnight. Plenty of people knew what that was like this weekend and the post blizzard misery continues. The shoveling and more shoveling. We'll tell you where and when, guess what, the next storm is going to hit. (COMMERCIAL BREAK)

HILL: Today may be the first official day of winner, for people up and down the east coast, the season started early. In fact, many today are still digging out from the weekend's deadly storm that dumped near record amounts of snow. And now another major storm preparing to move across the country. Chad Myers joins us from CNN's weather center with the latest. Chad, you are a very busy man, you're like Santa right now, you're so busy.

CHAD MYERS, AMS METEOROLOGIST: That's why I'm wearing my running shoes, exactly. Erica, here are the list of winners or losers depending on your point of view. Duo, West Virginia, very small hamlet there, 36 inch winter green, they need to change that to winter white, Virginia, at 30 inches of snow. Yes, there it is -- there is a winter.

Winter started today. Officially meteorologically, today is the shortest day of the year, but not the coldest day and certainly not the middle of winter. The coldest day is usually somewhere at the end of January, like January 21st so we're almost over that, almost.

Still 6,000 planes in the sky. People trying to get places they couldn't get over the weekend. Here are some of the pictures out of New Jersey. Let's roll some of these from New Jersey and we have Baltimore and all the way down to D.C. Because if you're sitting in sunny Miami and right now, I'm going, man, I'm glad I'm not back home.

Because you'll have to wait a couple days for this to melt. There will be a warm weather event that does come up the east coast a little bit and that will help you out. There we go. Nation's Capitol, beautiful shot there, nice -- and even down all the way into Washington, D.C. at 16 inches at Reagan National.

There were places out west of the city especially into Virginia that were up into the 24-inch-of-snow total. There we go. Here's what we have going for you. This is Wednesday and Thursday, not to be the bearer of bad news, but the east coast does not get the snow event this time. The jet stream turns farther to the north like this, rather than like this like it was over the weekend.

And so the snow and the ice, I think there's going to be a bigger ice event. Didn't have much ice with this last storm. It was a snow event. There's going to be an ice event from Milwaukee down through Chicago, and all the way down maybe even into Kansas City with snow on the back side of it.

It's called the conveyor belt. Think about when putting your bags on the airplane and the conveyor belt takes the bags up to the plane, the conveyor belt is taking warm air from the Gulf of Mexico. Taking it over this front and then it's going up, up, up, so up above -- let's say 5,000 feet in the sky, your temperature is going to be 40 degrees, but down at the surface, it might be 28. Think about that. Rain and 28. That's never a good mix.

HILL: No, it isn't. That could make for some very nasty conditions for folks. Chad, thanks for the good news.

MYERS: Any time. See you tomorrow.

HILL: Thanks, Chad. See you then.

All right, well, plenty of people probably experience getting stuck, although it may not have been on a plane because not many people got on one this weekend. If you were unfortunate to ever though experience hours of being stuck on a plane, you'll know it doesn't always take wild weather to delay that departure. It can be anything that makes it happen.

Well, tonight the government is ordering airlines to let people off planes delayed on the ground for any reason after three hours. Lisa Sylvester is at Reagan National Airport with some of the horror stories that led to the crackdown.


LISA SYLVESTER, CNN CORRESPONDENT (voice-over): Anxious JetBlue passengers were stranded on this airplane for 10 hours at New York Kennedy Airport in February 2007. Same story line for passengers of Continental and two smaller airlines left on a tarmac overnight at the Rochester, Minnesota Airport in August.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: There wasn't any room. The plane was getting warmer. There were at least two babies nearby me who cried and screamed almost the whole night.

SYLVESTER: Under new rules announced by the transportation department, airlines in the future will have to allow passengers to get off the plane if the flight is delayed more than three hours. If not, the airline will face a fine of more than $27,000 per passenger. The only exceptions, if there are safety or security concerns or if air traffic controllers say it would disrupt airport operations. That news came as a relief for holiday travelers at the Reagan National Airport.

UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Definitely better. Three hours is still kind of long in my opinion. But it's quite an improvement.

SYLVESTER: The Air Transport Association, which represents the largest airliner says it will comply with the new regulation, but warns it could lead to more headaches.

JIM MAY, AIR TRANSPORT ASSOCIATION: A hard and fast three-hour window, and it is very clear to us that that plane has to be back at the terminal or back to a point where we can deplane passengers has to be within that three-hour window, is going to lead to more cancellations and conceivably greater inconvenience for passengers than they would have had otherwise.

SYLVESTER: But Transportation Secretary, Ray LaHood disagrees. He says passengers will have more options, instead of having only one choice to sit and wait on a plane. RAY LAHOOD, SECRETARY OF TRANSPORTATION: They can go back to the terminal, reboard the next day, go home or figure out if they want to get back on this flight if they know it's going to be delayed. It gives them the option so they're not sitting there trying to figure out what's happening in their life.


SYLVESTER: But the new rule will not help travelers this holiday season. That's because it doesn't take effect for 120 days -- Erica.

HILL: A lot of people could used that probably over the weekend. Another thing they could have used, and I say this from personal experience -- nothing in that new plan there to force airlines to staff their calling centers with more people on a busy weekend, say, with a snowstorm, right, Lisa?

SYLVESTER: No, unfortunately, but they do have other things in there. For instance, by two hours, that they will have to provide food and water because as you know, that's been part of the problem is that these people have been stranded on these airplanes without any food or water. So after two hours, the airlines will be obligated to provide at least that.

HILL: That is definitely a little bit more good news. Lisa Sylvester live for us at Reagan National Airport, thanks.

Still ahead, an airport horror story actually ends with wedding bells. >

Also with healthcare closer to being settled, Congress gearing up for its next epic brawl, amnesty for illegal immigrants. America's newest citizens now weighing in on the issue.

And some late breaking details tonight in the international custody battle for 9-year-old Sean Goldman. Is there new hope for a Christmas homecoming for this little New Jersey boy?


HILL: There are late-breaking developments tonight in the international custody battle over 9-year-old Sean Goldman. Brazil's Supreme Court now expected to rule tomorrow on an appeal that could send the little boy back home to the U.S. for the holidays. This dramatic twist, frankly just the latest in his father, David Goldman's 5-year struggle to be reunited with his son. Ines Ferre joins us now with the very latest and this is a surprise because we were actually expecting a ruling this afternoon.

INES FERRE, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Exactly, and everybody was expecting this ruling this afternoon now. They're saying it's going to be tomorrow and David Goldman, the father of this 9-year-old boy is expecting awaiting a Brazilian Supreme Court decision on whether his son stays in Rio with his Brazilian family or comes back to the U.S.

Goldman flew to Brazil last week after a unanimous decision ordered that the boy be returned to his biological father in New Jersey. An appeal was quickly filed and a day later the Supreme Court in Brazil granted a stay while the court considers whether to hear testimony from the boy.

Now Goldman then filed his own appeal and tomorrow we could find out if the Brazilian Supreme Court justice reverses the stay or not. A family friend says there are many uncertainties about how all of this will play out. Goldman has flown to Brazil many times only to return without his son.

MARK DEANGELIS, BRINGSEANHOME.ORG: I think this is his 14th or 15th trip now. Every single one of those trips he had an expectation that he might take Sean home on that trip so David, his parents, his extended family, all his friends feel as if, you know, we've been punched in the gut so many times with this case that we're just very, very cautious about getting overly excited about any development.

FERRE: And the lawyer for the boy's Brazilian family says if the stay is lifted, he has documents ready to appeal once again. This battle has been going on for five years. Sean was taken to Brazil by his mother, but she never returned and later remarried in Brazil. She died last year and the boy's Brazilian family has argued that he's settled there and he should stay in Rio and the battle has been really fierce.

HILL: It has been and actually I believe it was Friday or not Friday over the weekend, but the attorney general of Brazil coming out in support of David Goldman saying this is making our country basically look bad. There are more and more people coming out in support. Is there any feeling, though, that that's going to have any sway on this decision tomorrow, or is it really up to the judges?

FERRE: Well, there's really a feeling that there's been so much attention given to this case that Brazil is really being pressured to return the boy to his father.

HILL: We'll see how that plays out tomorrow. Ines, thanks.

On Capitol Hill tonight, if you thought health care reform was a major slugfest, get ready for immigration reform. More than 90 house Democrats now supporting amnesty for the estimated 12 million illegal immigrants currently living in the United States. Outrage among Republicans really no surprise here. As Casey Wian found out that some of America's newest citizens are also questioning the bill.


CASEY WIAN, CNN CORRESPONDENT: Milton Gomez Linares is a U.S. Army private, the husband and father was born in El Salvador.

PRIVATE MILTON GOMEZ LINARES, US ARMY: Came here when I was about 3 years old and my mother brought me here. We did enter illegally and then she got asylum, and then -- I've been living here since.

WIAN: Now he's becoming an American citizen. Milton, what does this mean to you today, becoming a U.S. citizen? PVT. GOMEZ LINARES: A whole lot, a whole lot. It gives me a sense of pride. Now that I'm serving for this country, it gives me a reason to serve. It gives me a fulfillment in my heart, you no, knowing that I'm serving for my country.

WIAN: Gomez Linares will be deployed to Afghanistan in March. He supports the proposal to provide some 12 million illegal immigrants in the United States with the opportunity to gain legal status.

PVT. GOMEZ LINARES: I think that actually would be a good idea. At the same time, with all the security threats and everything, you still have to conduct some kind of investigation or thorough analysis of persons and their attitudes.

WIAN: Nearly 3,000 immigrants swore allegiance to their new country at a naturalization ceremony in Los Angeles Friday. Evangelia Novarro is from Greece.

EVANGELIA NOVARRO, GREEK IMMIGRANT: Somebody who had to go through the whole immigration process, I have to say that it's pretty complicated and expensive.

WIAN: But she opposes mass legalization for those who have broken the law.

NOVARRO: Although I'm an immigrant, I do not like to see illegal people around because I do see that it is a burden. It is a burden. I don't think our government knows how much it costs.

WIAN: Mexican immigrant, Jose Luis Gonzalez hosts a Jerry Springer style show on Spanish language television. He says as a new U.S. citizen he plans to cover more serious subjects.

JOSE LUIS GONZALEZ, HOST, "JOSE LUIS CIN CENSURE": We are not bad people. We're good people who come here to work and you see it. I'm an example that I'm a person who has been working very hard. Finally, today I got my U.S. citizenship, and I'm very proud of it.

WIAN: James Stauffer is from Canada and can see both sides of the debate.

JAMES STAUFFER, CANADIAN IMMIGRANT: There's something to be said for waiting in the line and paying your dues. I think a lot of people struggle to go through this process, raising money, lawyer fees, et cetera, et cetera. So I don't think it's fair for anyone to cut in line, per se, but I don't blame them. So I don't know the answer to that. I'll leave it up to the politicians.

WIAN: Clearly the American way. Casey Wian, CNN Los Angeles. >


HILL: Well, as Casey mentioned that is about that's coming up, but the health care battle is, of course, already in full swing. Still ahead tonight, what is next in that battle especially after this morning's dramatic Senate vote? We'll get the latest from three of the country's leading political analysts. >

Plus searching for answers tonight in the sudden death of actress, Brittany Murphy. That story is next.


HILL: There are new questions tonight surrounding the mysterious death of 32-year-old actress Brittany Murphy over the weekend. She collapsed at her home on Sunday morning. The Los Angeles coroner today completed an autopsy on the actress. The exact cause of death won't be known until toxicology reports are completed. The Los Angeles police department is conducting their own investigation into Murphy's death. Kareen Wynter has more on the life and sudden death of Brittany Murphy.


KAREEN WYNTER, CNN ENTERTAINMENT CORRESPONDENT: You may remember her from movies like this.

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Are you a virgin?

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: I'm not prude, I'm just highly selective.

WYNTER: The 1995 hit teen comedy "Clueless" that propelled actress Brittany Murphy into the spotlight. Her career which began on the small screen would eventually blossom into bigger roles like the 1999 drama "Girl Interrupted" and the 2002 critically acclaimed "8 Mile" with rapper Eminem. Fans are still stunned over her sudden death on Sunday which the coroner's office says appears to be due to natural causes. Officials have released few details and many people are puzzled by what could unexpectedly kill a 32-year-old woman. Vanderbilt University Doctor Corey Slovis says it could be one of a number of factors.

DR. COREY SLOVIS, VANDERBILT UNIVERSITY: Range from the head, a stroke or a bleed to the heart, a heart attack or arrhythmia, to the lungs, a blood clot or a pulmonary embolism to the aorta which can rupture and then finally, some medication, an intentional or unintentional overdose or medication effect.

WYNTER: Over the years Murphy's weight came into focus as she appeared extremely thin prompting rumors of an eating disorder. Dr. Rashmi Gulati of Manhattan's Patient's Medical Center says there are health concerns any time a patient's weight drops dramatically.

DR. RASHMI GULATI, PATIENT'S MEDICAL, MANHATTAN: Being underweight impacts all organ systems of the body. The most commonly that is impacted is, of course, our kidneys, the renal system, the gastrointestinal tract and the heart system as a result of the electrolyte imbalances.

WYNTER: Murphy's family has asked for privacy at this time saying in a statement, "The sudden loss of our beloved Brittany is a terrible tragedy. She was our daughter, our wife, our love and a shining star." The actress starred in the 2003 comedy "Just Married" with Ashton Kutcher and later dated the actor. Kutcher posted his reaction to his ex-girlfriend's shocking death on twitter Sunday. It read, "Today the world lost a little piece of sunshine. My deepest condolences go out to Brittany's family, her husband and her amazing mother, Sharon. See you on the other side, kid."


WYNTER: Murphy's husband hasn't released a statement. Her father has spoken out, calling his daughter an absolute doll and a regular gal that everybody loved. Erica?

HILL: Such a tragic moment for all of them. Kareen, thanks.

Joining us with now more on the life and sudden death of Brittany Murphy is Gerald Posner. He's a former lawyer and he's also chief investigative reporter for the "Daily Beast."

Good to have you with us tonight. You wrote a piece on this in "The Daily Beast" today. There always seem to be, as we heard from that doctor in Kareen's piece, this can happen to a young person that they die obviously. When it's a 32-year-old young thin celebrity there seem to be more questions surrounding that death. Are those questions founded in this case?

GERALD POSNER, THE DAILY BEAST: Yes I think they are Erica actually founded. You know it's one of the first things I looked into, is there more here than just rumors and gossip that you'll hear on different blogs and websites. In fact the interesting thing is clearly her size. She's underweight. It looks like an eating disorder of some type. That happened so fast in 2005 that she had to publicly come out and announce she was not using cocaine, the rumors were so widespread. She had to dismiss those rumors at the time. Since then, when you talk to people in Hollywood, what you hear back is we're surprised but we aren't startled, meaning that there had been rumors for some time for the last two or three years that she had been seen out of it, spacey, a little disoriented. There are also doctors who will tell you that can happen from diabetes in some cases and that's what her mother that says she has. But it's raised enough questions that I think until the toxicology report comes back from the coroner in four to six weeks no one will know for sure what stopped the heart of a 32-year-old otherwise seemingly healthy young actress.

HILL: The other thing that's definitely raised a number of questions today is the fact there's an investigation into her death when we're told it appears to be a death of natural causes. Why would there be an investigation then?

POSNER: I think what's happened is the coroner says it's caused by cardiac arrest, therefore, it's a natural cause. All that means is the heart stops. People hear that and they assume immediately natural causes means natural death. In the case of Elvis Presley, when he died it was called the same thing. It was called cardiac arrest. That's what it says on the death certificate. Elvis had ten different narcotics in him, enough to kill a pack of elephants. In the end what it means is her heart stopped. That's the natural part of it. What they now have to figure out is what caused it. Was it some genetic defect no one knew about or was it in fact drug induced? Was it from prescription drugs or something else that caused that heart to stop?

HILL: There's also the issue over the autopsy which as we have learned is being performed. Her husband was objecting to it saying he didn't want one. Any idea why? Is it simply to keep that out of the public record?

POSNER: There are two things on it, Erica. Certainly I mean it looks bad. It has all the appearance we used to say as lawyers of impropriety. I would want to, I would think if my wife was 32 years old and died unexpectedly, I'd be very anxious to find out what caused her to die. You wonder if he has something to hide. On the other hand, he is Jewish. I don't believe he's orthodox, but in the orthodox part of the Jewish religion they frown on autopsies. It's not really allowed religiously. They view it as a mutilation of the body. Unless he's doing it for religious purposes, you would tend to think why is not encouraging the autopsy instead of telling the doctors at Cedar Sinai that he didn't want it.

HILL: If his wife wasn't Jewish, would he be allowed to protest if there is some law that's related to that that does take into account ones religious belief? If she wasn't, then would that even have any bearing?

POSNER: It wouldn't because in the end the state always triumphs over the religion in this instance. For instance, if you have a death which can't be explained away and a doctor is not involved and a young person dies without any apparent reason, there's no blunt trauma force, there's no accident. You say, by the way, religiously I don't want this done. It's against my religion, the coroner and the prosecutor and the police will say sorry but we're going to do it anyway because there's a state interest in finding out. Now you're talking a celebrity and an actress of some renowned, it's a sure bet they'll have the autopsy no matter how much he protests.

HILL: You mentioned some of the concern from a few years ago that she actually came out and made some statements and addressed those concerns but I believe and correct me if I have the dates wrong, I believe in your article today there was also some talk about she was actually pulled off a movie earlier this year. That's actually fairly rare for an actress, isn't it?

POSNER: It's very rare. As a matter of fact, it's a wonderful industry, the only reason I thought I would work in Hollywood is it's the only industry that no one is ever fired from a job. They move laterally to something else or they're taken off a movie because of, quote, creative differences. She was in fact fired from a movie just in November of this year, very rare, not only for her own behavior which was I've talked to people who were on the set which was difficult, but because of her husband, her British husband, producer and director, was constantly there, was bothersome to many on the set and they finally said good-bye to the two of them. When they came back to Los Angeles from a stay in New York right after she had been let go from that set, as a matter of fact when the American Airlines flight arrived, an emergency medical team had to meet the plane and go on board because he was having problems. He was described by the EMT workers as incoherent. They took him off the plane to the ER room. They released him after four hours. They later said it was asthma. It added to the whole question of is something wrong with either her husband or her and then we hear about the death and it raises more questions.

HILL: You mentioned that she was difficult on the set of that movie. Difficult how?

POSNER: Difficult in terms of really -- this is very interesting -- in protecting her husband. There were friends of Brittany Murphy who said that in 2003 and 2004 we were inseparable. By the time she finally got married in 2007 to her husband he cut us out of that relationship. We did not think she was good for him. So when he was intervening on the set. When he was there, sometimes according to people there inebriated, she would always come to his defense. They didn't think they could get rid of him without also losing her. It wasn't as though she was just being a prima donna and a diva and demanding things that were unusual. In the end, her insistence that she protect him and him being viewed as a bad influence for her is one of the reasons I think her career was flat for a few years and the reason for which she was fired.

HILL: So many sad circumstances surrounding this and a terrible death for any family to have to deal with, especially here at this time of year. Gerald it was great to have you with us; a fascinating article online at "The Daily Beast." Thanks for your time tonight.

POSNER: Thanks Erica, great to be with you.

HILL: Just ahead, the very latest on the debate over health care reform.

And more on all those backdoor deals that led to the 60 votes for Democrats.


HILL: There will be three more votes in the Senate this week before the health care overhaul is finally passed. If the Democratic majority holds, the differences between the Senate and House bills will still need to be ironed out. Frankly there's a lot to happen before Democrats can really celebrate and claim victory. Joining me now, all CNN contributors, Ed Rollins, Republican strategist and former white house political director under Ronald Reagan, Errol Louis, columnist for the "New York Daily News" and Robert Zimmerman, Democratic strategist.

There's still a lot to happen, gentlemen. There's already been a lot of celebrating at this point. And also a lot of finger pointing as we were talking about earlier, Ed, much of it coming from Republicans saying, look, the way this deal was done was frankly terrible, it was backroom. Senator John McCain comparing this to some sort of a Ponzi scheme and bringing Bernie Madoff's name in. Was it that bad? It doesn't seem like anything is ever done without a deal.

ED ROLLINS, REPUBLICAN STRATEGIST: There's always deals but I think you people were sort of promised this was going to be different. As you get into the details of this -- I give Harry Reid great credit. To show my age, there was great rapper MC Hammer, this was hammer time. He founded these people into play and he was Santa Claus and he swapped a lot of things off early. Rewarded the bad children instead of the good children. But when you start looking at some of the deals, this is supposed to be national health care. Why should Nebraska get a special deal? Why should Pennsylvania and Vermont and North Dakota and South Dakota, why should their doctors get more money? This was all part of putting it together and I think there's a real potential for it to unravel, not in the Senate. I think in the Senate the votes are there. They're going to get it out of here by Christmas Eve. I think when it comes to conference and the house members look at this bill and the senators saying it's our way or no way, they won't be very happy. I think at the end of the day, Democrats so desperately want this. Something beats nothing in their mind I think to a certain extent that's not necessarily good for the country.

HILL: There's been a lot of talk about that. Why so many specific deals as Ed mentioned? As a Democratic strategist was this really smart for Democrats to come out and say, okay, Nebraska, we'll give you special treatment, anything to get Senator Nelson's vote?

ROBERT ZIMMERMAN, DEMOCRATIC STRATEGIST: I think our viewers should know first and foremost that Ed Rollins when he was the Reagan white house political director crafted true bipartisanship and crafted historic bipartisan deals. It should be recognized. Here is a very different climate in terms of the fact that we have a very diverse Democratic constituency. And let me tell you, the sausage making process of making legislation is never attractive and ultimately it's going to be I think remediated when it goes to house and the conference committee. A lot of these deals will work themselves out. House members saying why is this senator getting so much? What about my district and what about my agenda? I think some of that will calm down.

HILL: But was this a smart way? But as a strategist, if any of these lawmakers are coming to you especially with mid term elections coming up, a lot of these seats are on the line, along with the majority I mean was this a smart way to go about it and to be so open?

ZIMMERMAN: Erica, start with the following premise, is it essential to pass health care reform? If you accept the fact that it's the best for the country and important for the Democratic agenda, then you accept the fact that in this process there will be deals and some won't be pretty and they're going to have to be worked out. That's the reality of it.

I think it's also important that we talk about bipartisanship to understand that the Republican leadership today had no interest in being bipartisan. For six years they controlled the house, the Senate and the presidency, never put one reform through, whether it was insurance reform or expanding coverage or addressing the needs of sick people who were being denied their insurance. Of course, this past April, they voted to abolish Medicare for future retirees.

HILL: You bring up two interesting points. I want to touch on the Republican one. That's the one you ended on. Errol, was there just a movement among Republicans saying we're stepping back, we're not going to play here or were Democrats a little too forceful.

ERROL LOUIS, NEW YORK DAILY NEWS: No, I think Republicans made a strategic decision. I don't know if it was a particularly smart one but it's their political calculation that they be better off simply as critics, having nothing to do with it. No taint of it. If there's going to be blame assigned to it, they'll be able to throw it to the other party. I don't know if that's really going to play out the way they think it will. Perhaps district by district they may get an advantage here or there but you know even somebody like a Ben Nelson who is the only Democratic member of that entire Congressional delegation for the state. A website has been created, they're going after him. They're charged up. The reality is he got quite a lot of pork for that state.

HILL: A lot of pork, that would be an understatement.

ZIMMERMAN: At the end of the day, if this legislation works and is effective, all these side deals that we're talking about now will fade away and all the partisan rancor will fade away.

ROLLINS: Nobody is going to be in a hierarchy in this house or the Senate when all this comes -- this is four or five years down the road. Even the Congressional Budget Office that's done yeoman's work in 24 hours came up and said oh, we miscalculated. I think the mistake here was the rush to judgment. I think some Republicans would have been for some reform. They don't want to spend the kind of money they're basically spending and they think this thing is irresponsible. And obviously the Democrats got enough problems within their own caucus without bringing Republicans in but I think at the end of the day, the taxes are going to come into play, Medicare cuts are supposedly going to go in to pay for this thing. And I think there's going to be a lot of unhappy voters across this country.

HILL: And also as you point out, this isn't something you're going to see an immediate return on. Even Howard Dean has come out a couple times and now most recently on Sunday saying, look, this is actually going to be very tough to deal with in 2010 and actually passing this could be a bad move. Is it a bad move for Democrats to pass this bill?

ROLLINS: We'll see. If it doesn't work which I don't personally think it will, I don't think taking money away from doctors and hospitals and what have you makes for a better health care system. I don't think taking money away from Medicare recipients makes for a better health care system. At the end of the day, we'll see. We won't know for three or four years. Right now I would say it's a terrible bill.

HILL: What about the rhetoric that we're hearing from Republicans? We talk about whether or not Democrats are being smart in the way that they're going about this. Errol, I'll start with you here, are Republicans being smart in comparing this to Senator Lindsey Graham saying this is Chicago politics happening here, calling this Enron accounting. We mentioned the reference to Bernie Madoff from Senator John McCain.

LOUIS: I don't think the name-calling helps at all. I don't think it frankly gets any traction. I mean what do most people know or think about Chicago politics? It's sort of an insider slur. It's a slur ultimately at the white house. And the white house is handling its politics very gingerly here. They're not in the center of this thing. Everybody calls it Obamacare but the reality is he very much took a hands-off attitude and he's getting a lot of flack frankly from the left wing of the Democratic party for not being more involved, for not fighting for a public option or Medicare expansion or importation of drugs or any of the other reform planks. I don't see where the Republicans get anything out of it. Ironically the bill -- the final Senate bill actually has some of the best ideas that were halfheartedly put forward by Republicans, like crossing state lines and having involvement exchange and doing away with some of the antitrust stuff that insurance companies have benefited from. I think they're going to get some of the grief and not much of the benefit from having stayed on the sidelines.

HILL: Robert, I know you want to jump in but we're going to have to take a quick break. I'll let you have first dibs when we come back. We'll be right back with our panel in just a moment. Stay with us.


HILL: Back now with our panel, and plenty to discuss when it comes to health care reform. Robert Zimmerman I promised you the first word when we came back from break. I'll stick by my promise.

ZIMMERMAN: Appreciate that. I simply was going to say was with all the posturing and maneuvering that's going on, the bottom line of the whole issue is this is the Obama health care bill, whether he's front and center with it now. When he puts his signature on the bill, that's the Obama health care bill. The Democrats in the House and Senate are going to take responsibility and be held responsible regardless.

HILL: For that very reason should he perhaps to Errol's point be involved and be more involved in the selling of it?

ZIMMERMAN: The white house worked from the following premise. They looked at what happened during the Clinton period where the Clinton proposal came to the House and Senate. It was so detailed and so involved and so complicated that, in fact, it produced enormous backlash from Democratic House and Senate members. The idea was to take the opposite approach. They certainly gave the outline of what they wanted to do. They certainly lobbied for their point of view behind the scenes but they wanted the House and Senate to create the legislation. To some degree they thought they were staying out of the fray but that was a false assumption. The House and Senate created legislation and ultimately the Obama administration wants a reform in specifics were not their agenda.

HILL: In terms of when this -- let's be realistic here. There are three more votes to come. They're hoping to get this wrapped up by Christmas Eve but this is only the Senate version. We've got the House version. The two need to be reconciled.

ROLLINS: There's two third rails here. One third rail which is social security. The abortion issue, which is not resolved and no matter what the Senate version is it's not going to be satisfactory to the pro-choice people in the House and the public option. There are still the progressives or the liberals in the House who want a public option.

HILL: It's in the House bill?

ROLLINS: It's in the House bill. It's not in the Senate, and those are deal breakers.

ZIMMERMAN: One more rail to your theory, which I think is on target. How this is going to be paid for? The Senate is saying amongst their taxes, they propose a tax on the Cadillac plans, and that impacts labor unions dramatically.

HILL: Which as we know are very much against those taxes on those so called high taxes.

ROLLINS: Now we have everybody going into sun rooms getting out of that tax. I don't know how many people go to sun rooms, but there's enough to generate revenue.

ZIMMERMAN: The Botox lobby is holding out.

ROLLINS: There's also Medicare increase that most people have missed for those making $200,000 a year. There's an increase, and that's something that's to be debated out, too.

HILL: That tax issue is very big. It's either in the -- let me sure I don't mess it up. In the House it's taxing wealthier Americans, in the Senate taxing those high costs or Cadillac insurance plans. How do you reconcile that? There's a large portion of the country that neither one of those options sits well with.

LOUIS: That's right. The thing they have to prove and they need help from the CBO is costs are going to come down. You can pay more in taxes if you're pretty sure that your employer offered insurance bill is going to drop a little bit but if it's not, if you're paying on both ends, if you're not getting any clear benefits, you'll get a real revolt.

HILL: Especially as people have seen their premiums increase so much this year.

ROLLINS: They've never been able to do that before.

HILL: I'll be honest, I'm glad it's not my job. Ed Rollins, Errol Louis, Robert Zimmerman, good to have you with us, thanks.

Just ahead at the top of the hour, sitting in for Campbell Brown tonight, Ali Velshi. Hey Ali.

ALI VELSHI, CNN ANCHOR: Erica, good to see you. T.J. Holmes is going to take us as close to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq as you can get without leaving the country. He went inside a training ground the size of Rhode Island that's meant to prepare troops for real life battle.

Erica, we're also going to get a look at a new order issued to tens of thousands of troops on the battlefield in Iraq. Why the army is threatening if you get pregnant or you get another soldier pregnant, you could get court-martialed.

Plus, this is being called the worst decade ever for stocks. Should you have kept your money under the mattress instead? I'm going to crunch the numbers and see what the last ten years can teach us about the next ten years, Erica.

HILL: That, I'm looking forward to, my friend. Ali Velshi coming your way at the top of the hour, thanks Ali.

Just ahead, a soldier has determined -- has a determined bride and an endless airline delay. What do you do? The surprising twist in this weekend weather nightmare when we come back.


HILL: Finally tonight, another reminder, don't mess with a woman when she's about to get married. A Florida bride going head to head with this weekend's monster snowstorm, and she's coming out the victor. Hours after Shawna Hodges was supposed to say I do, canceled flights kept her husband-to-be from their Orlando wedding.

SHAWNA HODGES, FLORIDA BRIDE: Nothing's gone how we wanted, but we're working it out.

HILL: It's a good start. The groom scored a midnight flight to Tampa which of course is just 85 miles south of Orlando, and that was the break this bride need. She raced to the airport, surprising Cody where an impromptu wedding in the middle of the concord, looking beautiful. It lasted only minutes. The wedding was just about perfect. Best wishes and best of luck to them.

Thanks for being with us tonight. I'm Erica Hill. Here's Ali Velshi.